Gay Rappers Respond To ‘Empire’ And Homophobia In Hip Hop

Empire has become a cultural phenomenon, drawing in new viewers each week to the melodramatic behavior of Hip hop’s fictional first family the Lyons. Created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, the new series isn’t afraid to be controversial in its depiction of gay and bisexual characters in an industry oft-noted for its homophobia. VH1 reached out to several out rappers about whether they think Jamal’s (Jussie Smollett) storyline is grounded in reality and what their experiences have been being a gay person in Hip hop.

Cakes Da Killa
The 23-year-old New Jersey rapper is a bonafide star, often making the shortlist of up-and-coming emcees. Cakes’ style has made an impression with rhymes that are subversive and a flow that is both fast and funny.

On Empire Featuring A Gay Character
I think it has moments of brilliance and then moments that let me down but I think it’s good that we have a show that has a full black cast because that doesn’t really happen a lot on television. They are taking a lot of chances having an openly gay character that doesn’t really fit the general stereotype.

On Cookie Supporting Jamal’s Coming Out
In the world that I know, I don’t know too many managers who would force their artist of color to come out. I don’t know that, that’s necessarily a good business move – not to say that I don’t think it’s a good business move because I am an out artist but I don’t think nowadays a lot of people out there would give that advice. I just think that Cookie is trying to be an innovator; she’s trying to be fresh. I think she’s looking at his career as something different because he is a different artist.

On Homophobia In Hip Hop Music
Well, it definitely is still there. I just think right now the homophobia is not as blatant. I think because as a society we are progressing and a lot of stereotypes about gay people are being demystified. There definitely are setbacks but that’s just the reality of being a person in this world. Someone’s going to find a reason to hate you for whatever they feel.

On Empire Changing People’s Minds About Homosexuality
Ignorance doesn’t really have a set color or demographic or income. I think it just really depends on the person and their experience. I think there are educated people who make bank who are homophobic who aren’t going to change their mind because of religion or the way they were raised or whatever. I do think [Empire] is good for the black community because it shows a different side of masculinity. It shows a different side of being out. It shows a different side of being a person of color that still handles their business, which we don’t see often.

Check out Cakes Da Killa’s video for “Goodie Goodies” directed by filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary.

SIYA is a self-described “dominant woman AKA stud” who became the breakout star on Oxygen’s Sisterhood of Hip Hop. With an impressive social media following, the rapper (and now reality star) has drawn comparisons to rappers like Queen Latifah and Boss.

On Homophobia In Hip Hop Music
It is a real situation that has been in this industry for years but, you know, the rumors about Young Thug being gay? I’ve heard that rumor within the music industry and outside of it but I haven’t heard any negative things about it. It’s like, ‘Oh, shit, he’s gay…and?’ Verses, if it was 10 years ago and Eminem was rapping some homophobic things, or DMX was saying something crazy about gay men. Now, it’s almost like they turn the other cheek.

On Facing Prejudice In Her Career
I haven’t dealt with obstacles because I was gay, I’ve dealt with obstacles because I wouldn’t change my image. I would do record label meetings and they would say “You’re so dope! You’re so different!” but then they would ask, “Can we put you in a dress? Can we femme it up a little?” And I’m not willing to change who I am for anyone, not what I look like, not what I dress like. That always brought me to a roadblock but I’ve never been one to fall victim to this industry.

On Empire Changing People’s Minds About Homosexuality
I think there’s been a lot of progress and I think that has a lot to do with social media and television. Shows like Empire and Orange is the New Black and The Real World make it not such a hard pill to swallow. What really stands out, regardless of your sexuality, is if your music is dope: people are going to like you, they’re going to love you, they’re going to purchase your music. It’s different now, this generation does not care about whether or not you’re gay or not. They care about whether or not the beat is dope and the hook is catchy.

Check out SIYA’s video for “Real MVP” that was featured on Sisterhood of Hip hop.

Y-Love is an influencer and conscious Hip hop artist who raps in several languages including English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. An Orthodox Jew, Y-Love has been rhyming about sociopolitical and religious issues since the early aughts.

On The Character Of Jamal Being Relatable
Most definitely, as a person more so than as an artist. In the first episode, he asks why is there so much homophobia in the black community. That’s a question that transcends Hip hop and something that millions of gay kids from Harlem to South Central can all I identify with.

On Homophobia In Hip Hop Music
[I came out publicly] partly because of the gay backlash when Frank Ocean came out in 2012. I heard a lot of rappers saying, “That’s cool for him as a R&B artist but you’re not going to see a rapper coming out like that.” I absolutely had to be the one to say, no, not only are we here, we’ve been here.

On More Artists Coming Out in Hip Hop
The amount of self-determination that a gay artist had to have to be out today, that’s what’s going to keep other gay rappers coming out. To keep the Jamals of the world at their pianos, knowing what the Luciouses of the world say is wrong.

Check out the video for Y-Love’s single “This is Unity.”

Fly Young Red
Fly Young Red blew up the internet with his music video “Throw That Boy Pussy.” The video became a viral sensation sparking controversy and buzz around the up-and-coming artist.

On Empire Featuring A Gay Character
Empire is the shit! I’m feeling the fact that they even have a gay character in the music industry on TV because we usually get overlooked. I think that’s dope. Even if it’s a fictional story, [Empire] is opening doors for us by showing a black gay artist in a positive light and making people overlook his sexuality and focus more on his artistry.

On Facing Prejudice In His Career
I have been in a studio session and heard people talking about me through the wall. “Yeah, that’s that f— that made that song” and I have also been in situations where I was buying a beat and when I told the guy who I was he didn’t want to sell it to me anymore. They think it’s like, “Man I can’t have my name on no gay shit.” It is what it is and if you fuck with me, you fuck with me. These guys knew who I was, and I couldn’t tell you who any of them were to save my life, so apparently I’m doing something right.

On Empire Changing People’s Minds About Homosexuality
The part I like best about it is the relationship that Jamal has with his father. This is the first time they’ve had something like that on TV. It’s starting the conversation that a lot of black fathers don’t have with their gay sons because they don’t know how to talk to them or what to say. I feel like it’s showing the fathers what the sons are thinking and helping them to maybe understand each other better. Even though the relationship between [Jamal and Lucious] keeps changing, I want to see how this is going to play out.

Check out Fly Young Red’s video for “Throw That Boy Pussy” now.